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The Little Things November 20, 2011

We gave them the ball at our 2.

We gave them the ball at our 30.

We gave them the ball at our 39.

We gave them the ball at our 45.

And so we lost.

I’m so tired of writing stuff like this.  I’m tired of looking up these statistics.  I’m tired of perusing box scores looking for bad stuff.  But here we are again.  And this box score doesn’t need much perusing.  The whole game can be explained on the drive chart:

Wisconsin had 7 drives start in their own territory.  Those drives started at the 20, the 5, the 29, the 36, the 29, the 31, and the 19.  From those drives, Wisconsin scored zero points.

Wisconsin had 4 drives that started in our territory.  The aforementioned 2, 30, 39, and 45.  From these drives, they scored 28 points.  Game set match.

For the 14th consecutive game, our defense played well enough for us to win.  Whoa.  That thought just hit me like a ton of bricks.  14 straight games that Koenning’s boys have put us in a position to win.  And we just lost our 5th consecutive game.

You know what?  I need to stop.  You know all of this already.  I’m no longer informing – I’m harping.  And that team played really, really hard today.  They came out on fire and dominated the first half against a very good football team.  Jeff Allen tweeted after the game “left it all on the field”, and he did.  The offensive line did.  The offense outgained Wisconsin.  The defense held the Badgers 214 yards under their average.  Effort wasn’t the issue today.  Turnovers were the issue.

We fumbled 5 times, but got pretty lucky and only lost 1.  But we threw 3 interceptions.  And we muffed a punt at our 2.  And we took points off the board (again) with a penalty.  And we didn’t play the wind correctly.  And a hundred other little things that make the big things obsolete.

If there’s an epitaph that can be written for the now-certainly-over Zook regime, it’s that.  We never did any of the little things well.  So despite a pretty good offense here and a pretty solid defense there, Zook’s teams are now a collective 34-50 mostly because they were never properly instructed on how to win games with just the little things.

+ Man the first half was fun.  Donovonn Young running HARD.  Nathan accurate on the short throws (I think we was 13-15 at one point).  Reilly O’Toole looking in command for his series’.  Converting fourth and long plays that I can’t ever remember us converting.  The crowd was into the game, and the players responded.

And then we emerge from the locker room completely flat.  The sideline wasn’t as fired up.  From the moment Darius Millines fumbled, not another thing went right.  Our second half drives ended as follows: fumble, interception, punt, interception, interception.

I’m back to harping, aren’t I?

+ The two best linebackers in the Big Ten were on display today.  Chris Borland of Wisconsin had 16 tackles (1.5 TFL) with 2 forced fumbles.

Not to be outdone, Bad News Brown had 10 tackles (4 TFL) with a sack, a QB hurry, and a 28 yard fumble return.  He now has 18.5 tackles for loss on the season, which puts him 8th on the single season Illini TFL list.  And that’s in only 10 games.  I swear if he had played against Indiana he’d have 29 TFL’s by now.

If Jonathan Brown isn’t a first team All Big Ten linebacker this year, something’s wrong with the system.

+ Speaking of defense, I asked this question on Twitter, but I’ll pose it again.  Is this the best Illini defense in the last 25 years?  It’s either #1 or #2, that much is certain.  The question is whether it’s better than 1994.  I’d say 1994 has a slight edge right now, just because of the 4 NFL linebackers.  To have two Butkus winners on the same defense was something special.

But say this defense holds Minnesota to 219 yards and 9 points next weekend.  Their stats would be right up there with our 1994 defense, right?  And given what this team has had to face, with an offense turning the ball over and punting it away, this might be the best defensive effort in Illini Football history.  And we’re 6-5.  Yep, the 1994 parallels keep on comin’.

+ When I type out my resume to submit for Head Football Coach at University of Illinois, I think I will solely concentrate on the wind.  That part of the cover letter will go like this:

Wind.  It plays a role in 60% of the games played in Memorial Stadium.  There are no hills in east central Illinois, and because of that, the wind rolls in off the plains unabated.  And the design of the stadium doesn’t help – the balconies concentrate the wind towards the center of the field.

As head football coach, I will make that wind my obsession.  The wind is there for nearly every October and November game, so when those games arrive, my team will have an advantage. 

I will have had my quarterbacks work on giving it a little extra and taking a little off.  I will train my punters to read the flags and set their angle accordingly.  And my returners – yes, I will pull my returners out to practice on a windy day, put them on the turf inside the stadium, and have each and every one of them learn how far a ball will drift (or die) because of the wind.  My kickoff returners will be ready at the 20 instead of the 8, my punt returners will never let a ball sail over their heads, and my field goal units will be well-versed in the wind swirl that sometimes happens at the south endzone.

What do you think?  Do I have a good shot?  I hear the job might be coming open soon.

Joe John November 20th, 2011

Ron Zook will end his Illinois coaching career with a record of 4-21 vs the Top 25.

Athletically, the team is able to compete for now (not sure how with future recruiting thats going to be).

So a new coach should have more to work with than when Zook took over for Turner.
But…the decision should have been made 2 years ago.
Not firing Zook 2yrs ago i think killed fan support…and its going to be a long time before the fans come back to Memorial Stadium unless a mega hire is named.

Only 45,519 tickets sold for Wisconsin (the best team IL faced this year…on senior day).

Forget about it.
Save us Mike Thomas.

And Ron Guenther…8 homes games its still a fail of a season.

Steve November 20th, 2011

The stats about starting field position and points are sadly illuminating. Four go one way, the rest are fine. Wow, kind of don’t know what to say to add anything to that summary.
Hope the guys can get up mentally for minnie. don’t know what that feels like, with turkey break thrown in for distraction and all. Certainly feels pretty blah from this chair. Hoping for more fire from theirs.

Hoppy November 20th, 2011

You got a shot Robert, maybe your friend from the interview can be an assistant. Brice? Was that his name? Sounds like a good 1-2 punch.

BigGame67 November 20th, 2011

So if Zook gets canned, how many recruits do you think de-commit?

Hoppy November 20th, 2011

I think it depends on who they bring in. I can’t say with 100% certainty but I would imagine these recruits aren’t only coming to Illinois to play for the legend Ron Zook. If they bring in a high profile guy we will be okay.
Zook is/was a good recruiter but I’m sure his recruiting pitches weren’t about his current success as a coach. More than likely he talked about the family environment and as long as another coach is known for taking care of his guys the recruits will probably stay.

schiavonir November 20th, 2011

Sorry if I’m hijacking the thread, but I’ve got a dilemma and I need your help. In 2010, I added an external drive to my TiVo and was able to save most of the games. I really enjoyed watching the 2010 games throughout the summer, mentally gearing up for another great season. Sure, there were a couple of disappointments in there, but all in all, still a good season to rewatch.
I’ve done the same with 2011. I’ve got every game saved. The last 5 games – I don’t think I ever want to see them again. As an Illini fan, do I just clench my teeth and power through them next summer, smiling to myself every time I see a no-longer-on-the-Illinois-payroll Ron Zook? Or do I delete these games now and make room for more Phineas and Ferb?

GrogsBBQPepperoni November 21st, 2011

And how much of Ron Zook’s recruiting was really Mike Locksley and the DC pipeline? I’ve noticed since he’s been gone that recruiting has slipped and that pipeline seems to have dried up. And you can be the best recruiter in the world, but it’s very hard to get good talent to want to star in a bad show. The product on the field is the best recruiting a program has. And ours is certainly not ‘must watch tv’.

jonb60173 November 21st, 2011

We can talk won/loss record, recruits, etc. but the bottom line is this football team is spinning its wheels with RZ. Yes big Ron brought in some outstanding recruiting classes, the one with Benn jumps off the page, but the results were underperformingly dismal. I’ve never dissected how Juice got all the statistical yardage he did via the air but I suspect it was mostly bombs where our receivers were just so accrobatic that they out fought the defender for the ball – ie Cumberland, but fundamentally he was a great athlete and a terrible qb. Why did Zook stick with him, for the Chicago connection, who knows, but a sustained drive was not in his vocabulary. I hoped the new coordinators would be able to overcome RZ, but big Ron just continously made crazy in-game decisions. How could he not know the score? Special teams continued to be not special, and reflected coaching beyond terrible. To this day I’m convinced the kids could have drawn something up on the playing field grass. Once again we’re looking for that guy that Iowa found (Fry) and Wisonsin found (Alvarez) that can build a sustainable program. Here’s hoping.

Craig the Memphis Cabbie November 21st, 2011

Why can’t Zook put 2 punt returners back there to field punts when it’s real windy. I saw Bob Stoops do it a couple weeks ago when it was windy at an OU game. If you’re not trying to block the punt, put an extra guy back there so one guy doesn’t have to cover so much territory.

DennisADay November 22nd, 2011

Is it really all about the cult of Zook? As a rule, if you don’t deliver, you get canned and it sounds like time is short for our Mr. Zook.
I’ve pretty much given up on this season. I’ve already gotten some Belk Bowl tickets for this year. I’m looking forward to seeing the Cardinals play.